US embassy cable - 05TORONTO2602

Not SARS, Not Avian Flu - Ontario Health Officials Seek Identity of Killer Virus

Identifier: 05TORONTO2602
Wikileaks: View 05TORONTO2602 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Toronto
Created: 2005-10-03 16:25:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: AMED SOCI TBIO ECON CASC CA Health
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TORONTO 002602 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR WHA/CAN, CA/OCS, M/MED, and M/DASHO 
HHS FOR OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY, OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL 
AFFAIRS (STEIGER), CDC FOR GLOBAL HEALTH OFFICE (COX) 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: AMED, SOCI, TBIO, ECON, CASC, CA, Health 
SUBJECT: Not SARS, Not Avian Flu - Ontario Health Officials 
Seek Identity of Killer Virus 
 
Ref:  Toronto 00153 
 
 
1.  SUMMARY:  In a press conference on Saturday October 1, 
Ontario health officials announced that a respiratory 
illness that had killed four residents of a Toronto nursing 
home and affected over 70 of its staff was not SARS or avian 
flu-related.  On Monday, October 3, Ontario's Commissioner 
of Emergency Management Julian Fantino told post's DPO that 
he was "relieved" at this finding, but still deeply 
concerned about the lack of specific definition of the 
illness.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist at Mount Sinai 
Hospital, and Dr. Barbara Yaffee, director of communicable 
disease control with the City of Toronto public health 
department, told those in attendance at Saturday's press 
conference that: 
 
     -- the victims had symptoms consistent with those 
     usually seen at the beginning of the flu season; 
 
     -- those who had died all had severe underlying medical 
     conditions; 
 
     -- cases were restricted to the 250-bed Seven Oaks Home 
     for the Aged in the suburban city of Scarborough; 15 
     people have been hospitalized since the outbreak began 
     on September 25, with the majority admitted on Friday, 
     September 30, and placed in negative pressure 
     rooms; (NOTE:  See nursing home's website for 
     additional details on this facility, 
     www.Toronto.ca/homesfortheaged/sevenoaks.htm.  The 
     center includes a childcare center.  END NOTE) 
 
     -- the province's health lab's excellent detection 
     capacity was at work, with six possible viruses under 
     suspicion:  para-influenza, adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, 
     metapneumo virus, and human coronavirusrirus; (NOTE: 
     Coronavirusrirus caused an outbreak in Vancouver in 
     2003.  End NOTE) 
 
     -- hospitals and emergency rooms across the city were 
     operating normally -- the admitting Centenary Hospital 
     had taken standard added precautions, but quarantine 
     was deemed unnecessary; 
 
     --  best public precautionary practice against viral 
     infection was frequent hand-washing. 
 
3.  DPO attended the scheduled meeting Monday morning of 
Toronto's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which 
featured former Toronto Police Chief and current 
Commissioner of Emergency Management Julian Fantino as a 
speaker.  On greeting DPO, Fantino described himself as 
"relieved" by the initial findings on the Scarborough 
outbreak.  He mentioned the impressive medical technology 
being employed to determine the specific nature of the 
illness, and made clear that its identification is a key 
priority for medical and civil authorities alike. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
4.  Drs. McGeer and Yaffee are familiar faces from 
Toronto's 2003 SARS outbreak, which stunned the 
city with 44 deaths.  Toronto Public Health decided to hold 
the press conference because of the sensitivity of the city 
to such incidents and to counter "some misinformation 
floating about - rumor mills."  No doubt recent alarming 
World Health Organization predictions of a bird flu pandemic 
has heightened concern.  Since the SARS outbreak, Ontario 
has become a recognized world leader on respiratory illness 
control and Canada has developed with the provinces a 
Pandemic Influenza Plan.  This month Canada will host an 
international meeting of Ministers of Health and other 
senior officials from 30 countries to enhance global 
collaboration and coordination to combat a likely avian flu 
pandemic in support of the U.S.'s International Partnership 
on Avian and Pandemic Influenza.  It will contribute C$15 
million for international initiatives related to emerging 
infectious diseases. 
 
5.  Comment Continued: Reftel contains ConGen Toronto's 
assessment of "Lessons Learned" from the 2003 Toronto 
SARS outbreak, much of which would be applicable should 
an influenza situation occur.  In September the Consulate's 
senior staff reviewed in detail relevant Emergency Action 
Plan procedures for such a contingency and the entire 
Consulate staff completed bio-chem training; our local 
medical director, Dr Howard Seiden, and a representative 
from the provincial Office of Emergency Management attended 
this training at our invitation, which was tailored to 
address additional influenza concerns.  There was also good 
attendance at the recent PA-hosted DVC on avian flu with 
public health emergency preparedness experts from the CDC. 
We have undertaken efforts to keep staff and American 
citizens informed, but not alarmed. We will continue to 
monitor broader viral outbreak reports as a testing ground 
for awareness of our Consulate's procedures.  We believe we 
- and the province - have done what we can to prepare for an 
influenza epidemic.  End Comment. 
 
LECROY 

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